To the Malawian consumer of goods and services on the market, there will not be a better week than this one when the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) flexed its muscles and punished 61 firms for violating consumer rights to fair trading.
What makes it all interesting is that in its decisions based on 61 complaints comprising 56 cases of unfair trading practices and five of anti-competitive business practices, CFTC pounced on both “small” and “big” businesses. The culprits include First Capital Bank, Nedbank Malawi (now merged with MyBucks Banking Corporation, Castel Malawi, Speedy’s Food Industries Limited, Mwaiwathu Private Hospital and Blantyre Dairy Limited.
The complaints ranged from misleading labelling and false advertising to anti-competition practices that gave some players unfair advantage.
The cases include one where a customer had his K1.4 million “missing” from his First Capital Bank account. It transpired that by October 20 2020 he had made deposits totalling K1 477 166.90 and thereafter two more deposits of K100 000 each only to discover there was just K206 659 balance in his account.
The investigation established that the customer never made withdrawals and that, instead, the money was being transferred from the bank account to several Airtel numbers using the mobile money platform, Airtel Money.
First Capital Bank refused to provide information as requested by the CFTC. Thus, the commission fined the listed bank a collective K1 million fine and ordered that the “missing” funds be deposited into the complainant’s account.
This is an interesting case that calls for greater vigilance from customers on how their deposits are managed, especially with the mobile banking platforms. It is unfortunate the bank did not provide the requested information. In fact, the bank did not do itself a favour as the silence will only heighten public speculation that the “theft” was an internal job. This will surely dent the image of some of its products.
Essentially, the Competition and Fair Trading Act was put in place to encourage competition in the economy by prohibiting anti-competitive trade practices; to regulate monopolies and concentrations of economic power; to protect consumer welfare, among others.
While commending the CFTC for a job well done regarding protecting consumers, the fines are too low to act as a deterrent. It is encouraging to learn from CFTC acting executive director ApocheItimu that efforts are underway to review the fines as contained in the CFTC Act of 1998.
Many consumers suffer in silence, especially when cases involve big corporations which bully them and eventually frustrate the consumers from pursuing their cases. I share the sentiments of Consumers Association of Malawi executive director John Kapito that the 61 culprits are just a tip of the iceberg.
To further serve the best interests of the consumer, there is need for a mechanism that will ensure proper monitoring and inspection to see to it that everyone is accountable for their actions on the market.
The CFTC would also do consumers a favour by reviewing the conduct of mobile phone network operators who restrict subscribers to use ‘bonus’ airtime within a defined network and time frame. This does not make sense considering that the airtime that earned the customer the ‘bonus’ was used to call “other networks”.
I also commend the concerned consumers who reported the respective cases of raw deals to the CFTC. Do not suffer in silence, be vigilant and demand the best.
There should simply be no room for unfair business or trading practices. Businesses would do better to draw lessons from the Lions Clubs Code of Ethics which generally provides guidance on ethical behaviour across various life spheres.
Herewith two of the Lions Code of Ethics worth pondering: (1). To seek success and to demand from all fair remuneration or profit as my just due, but to accept no profit or success at the price of my own self-respect lost because of unfair advantage taken or because of questionable acts on my part; and, (2). To remember that in building up my business it is not necessary to tear down another’s; to be loyal to my clients or customers and true to myself.
Well done consumers. Well done CFTC. Consumers deserve protection from unscrupulous entrepreneurs and unfair trading practices.